Julia Gillard tells Q+A she wishes she had called out sexism at start of prime ministership

‘I’m not sure what the reaction in the pack would have been … but maybe it’s a conversation we needed to have,’ former Australian PM says

Julia Gillard wishes that she confronted sexist media coverage during the earliest days of her prime ministership, saying she “didn’t realise it was going to get as mad as it did”.

In a special appearance on the ABC’s Q&A on Monday, Gillard, Australia’s first and only female prime minister, said she “should have” confronted sexist coverage of her in the mainstream media in the early days of her leadership saying it was “a conversation we needed to have”.

“I do muse to myself that, you know, the second day I was prime minister, the news media was entirely about the jacket I wore,” she said.

“Entirely. Like, no one reported anything I said the second day I was prime minister. It was all about what I was wearing. And I wonder now if, you know, on the third day I was prime minister, if I’d gone out to the Canberra press pack and said, ‘Is anybody feeling a little bit silly about this? If I’d been a bloke wearing a suit, would you have put that on the news yesterday? Oh, my God, he’s got a charcoal suit on! Would anybody cover that? Are we going to keep doing this for as long as I’m prime minister?’

“I’m not sure what the reaction in the pack would have been – bemusement by some, defensive by others, but maybe it’s a conversation we needed to have.”

Gillard was subject to a number of notable examples of sexism while serving as Australia’s prime minister from 2010-13. In recent years she has become well known internationally for her “misogyny speech” to parliament.

On Monday she appeared in a special episode of Q&A ahead of the release of her book about women in leadership.

Would Julia Gillard have faced a fairer time as PM if she reached the position in “a more conventional way”? #QandA pic.twitter.com/kVmBA0qiF9

— QandA (@QandA) July 13, 2020

Talking about sexist coverage during her leadership, she said that in hindsight she wished she used the political capital of her early leadership to address the issue, as well as asking other high-profile Australians to speak out against sexism, but said she “didn’t realise it was going to get as mad as it did around gender”.

“I think if the CEOs of Australia’s top 10 leading companies – the day after the rally with the ‘bitch witch’ signs – if they’d done a letter to the newspaper which said, ‘look, people can have a variety of views about putting a price on carbon, they’re all legitimate views, we should be having a debate, but we don’t have a debate calling the prime minister of the country with sexist terms,’ I think that would have been really noted,” she said.

“But things like that didn’t happen. And I’m not putting blame on anyone – I didn’t do it, so I’m not saying ‘I now blame those people for not doing it’. I think we all underestimated how it was going to cycle up, and so none of us came in early enough.”

During the program, Gillard was asked for advice about women in leadership, but also faced questions about her opposition to same-sex marriage during her leadership, and other decisions including a funding cut to welfare payments for single parents. On same-sex marriage, Gillard said she had voted ‘yes’ in Australia’s plebiscite on the issue but that did not believe she could have passed legislation while prime minister.

Why did Julia Gillard not support marriage equality while she was Prime Minister? #QandA pic.twitter.com/gatDsIo7X0

— QandA (@QandA) July 13, 2020

“I know that there are some people who think, well, if I’d brought same-sex marriage legislation into the parliament, maybe we would have had same-sex marriage earlier,” she said.

“My political judgment is that wouldn’t have happened, because – as you would recall, we were a minority government. At that stage, I think the Liberal party would have bloc-voted against same-sex marriage – they wouldn’t have had a conscience vote or a free vote.

“It would have become a partisan issue in the real hurly-burly of politics. And you remember how hard the hurly-burly was then – whatever one can say about Tony Abbott, he’s a formidable campaigner, and I think this would have been an issue that he brought his formidable campaigning skills to. And that would not have been in anybody’s interests to have that highly partisan debate.

“I actually don’t think we would have got it through the parliament at that point.”


Michael McGowan

The GuardianTramp

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